Exit for Automation Insider – maybe!

With the news that the Industrial Automation Insider is publishing its final issue, Eoin O’Riain of Read-out.net writes the following analysis:

The editorial in the latest issue on Industrial Automation Insider is (we think) somewhat sad. Walt Boyes writes


“Well, this is it. 

This is the last issue of the INSIDER. When David Spitzer and I bought the INSIDER in 2014 we hoped to find a market for news and analysis in the automation industries that was not influenced by advertising spend. We believed there was such a market, and we decided we would keep the INSIDER a subscription only publication. We are proud to have provided you news untainted by advertising dollars.

We believe that we have produced great news, some interesting scoops (that’s hard to do in a monthly magazine) and some hard-hitting deep analysis. We have gotten feedback to the effect that we are unique, and we are doing a service to the industry that is needed. But everything comes to an end. 

We want to thank our readers and subscribers for supporting us these last years.”

So much water has flowed under so many bridges since Andrew Bond first put pen to paper and produced the first beige coloured edition way back in pre pdf day. He then passed the torch on to Nick Denbow who continued the good work. Some years ago it crossed the Atlantic when Walt Boyes of Spitzer & Boyes took up the mantle. It perhaps lost a little of its European flavour in the transition but it never ceased to be interesting and sometimes controversial.

Like so many print and distributed periodicals the easily availability of news “as it happens” (not to mention the news that hasn’t happened) the number of people who actually read these in their oh-so-busy mailboxes must shrink. The Insider, and indeed our own publication Read-out, have suffered.   The Read-out name is preserved as a constantly changing news presence on a continually updated website.

Walt thanks his co-writers David SpitzerJoy Ward, Rajabahadur Arcot, Nick Denbow and all of the other people who supported the INSIDER over the past few years. He also promises that they will continue to appear, from time to time, “in our blog on the Spitzer & Boyes website.”

David W Spitzer’s own e-zine – which provides technical and indeed marketing, information for automation professional by email each month – will continue to be produced. (Get your copy each month by signing up on the website.)

We wish those involved in the monthly production of the Insider every success as they continue to provide news and analysis in the automation industries but in a different way. We thank Walt and his team for great – and perhaps irreplaceable – service through the years.

Eoin O’Riain
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Wave energy – UK and South Africa

wave energyBoth the UK and South Africa have the potential for harvesting green energy from the surrounding sea, from ocean or tidal flows, or from wave energy. Some 15 years ago, when the UK Government was keen to encourage and invest in green energy technologies, the European Marine Energy Technology Centre (EMEC) was established in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. The EMEC is the only centre of its kind in the world: it exists to provide developers of both wave and tidal energy converters – technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the power of waves and tidal streams – with purpose-built, accredited open-sea testing facilities. Initial funding of GBP34m came from the UK and Scottish Governments, the Carbon Trust, the European Union and several Scottish local agencies and councils. By 2011 the EMEC had become self-sufficient, by selling its consultancy and site evaluation and testing services to would-be suppliers.

As an aside, becoming self-sufficient was probably very opportune in 2011, as other UK Government financed initiatives and incentives for green technologies, like the Carbon Capture and Storage demonstration project, and financial incentives for wind farms, were switched off very fast as harsh financial strictures were imposed on Government spending. Currently, the CCS demo project in Canada, supported by its national and local Government, Shell Research, and local industry, is performing better than the project expectations.

South African research

According to Professor Wikus van Niekerk, from the Stellenbosch University Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES), while South Africa has some limited potential for harnessing tidal current energy, particularly at the Knysna Heads and the Langebaan Lagoon, the country’s most promising renewable ocean energy potential lies in ocean currents and waves.

From the technology aspect, wave energy appears to offer the most potential in South Africa. CRSES research shows the Western Cape has the highest wave power generation potential, and a few wave energy projects have been tried. Indeed Stellenbosch University developed the Stellenbosch Wave Energy Converter (SWEC) in the 1980s. As recently as 2015 it appeared the cost of wave energy generation was significantly higher than the solar PV or wind turbine techniques, but cost and technology changes rapidly!

New wave energy devices

Now on test in the Orkneys with EMEC is a 50% scale model of the new Swedish design of the Wave Energy Converter, the C3 from CorPower Ocean. This unit resembles a large ‘skittle’, or long necked bottle. Under test at EMEC since January 2018, the C3 WEC will be connected to a floating Microgrid unit, which is designed to allow the C3 device to behave as if it were grid connected by providing a stable voltage and frequency reference, simulating the impedance of a typical grid connection, absorbing power from the device under test and providing power to auxiliary systems.

This style of the WEC would be aimed at providing off-grid operations to power islands, offshore installations or remote coastal locations, all around the world. Another unit previously tested by the EMEC is the Wello Penguin, designed in Finland. Wello has received its first order for a commercial wave energy park, to be installed next to Nusa Penida Island in Bali, Indonesia: it will be the largest wave energy park globally, with planned delivery at the end of 2018. Power output is 20 MW, using multiple Penguin generators.

The Wello Penguin floats on water and captures kinetic energy from the waves, which is then turned into electrical power. It is an asymmetrical ship, and a 600 kW unit would be 220 tonnes typically, 30 m long and 16 m wide, anchored to the ocean floor. It utilises the same components that are already in use in wind turbines, and is easily constructed in a shipyard, meaning the Penguin is cost competitive compared to offshore wind energy. The roll of the Penguin spins the rotator inside the device, directing the energy from the waves. This rotation drives the generator – it does not have any moving parts in contact with sea water, so the service needs are minimal. In relation to comparative costs, the CEO of Wello, Heikki Paakkinen, said “The cost of energy generated with Wello Penguin is already very competitive compared to offshore wind energy, and in serial production we aim for a further 50% cost reduction.”

wello penguin

In 2015, Blackbird International, in collaboration with WERPO, announced plans to develop a 500 MW wave energy power plant in South Africa. The original wave energy system designed by WERPO, from Israel, uses an anchored float normally installed on wave breakers or sea walls, which rises and falls with wave action.

This article was written for and originally published in the April issue of the South African Instrumentation and Control Journal, published by technews.co.za in South Africa.

Process plant safety hazards – and sensors

The following summary of recent hazardous events was the subject of my column in the May 2018 issue of the South African Instrumentation and Control journal, published by technews.co.za . See the whole issue here.

This March saw the North of Europe suffer with the ‘Beast from the East’, with freezing Siberian wind and rain, plus snow – even in the South of the UK. The high winds brought an unexpected benefit: the power generated by the many UK wind turbines reached 14GW, or 34% of the UK power demand, during several periods. The wind power capacity installed feeding the UK grid is now 19GW, the third highest in Europe: Germany has 56GW, and Spain 23GW.

Cyber attacks in the Middle East

The major concerns for Saudi Arabia are the continuing cyber-attacks.  More information is emerging about the Triton malware attack, reported in this column in February. The latest news, published on the Cyberscoop and CyberArk websites, suggest the Triton attacks failed because of a ‘flaw in the coding of the malware’. Because of the sophisticated nature of the malware, and because many of the coding indicators have not been seen before, or used by any known hacking group, the conclusion is still that extensive resources were involved in creating and testing Triton, which could only have been provided by a nation state actor. Saudi Aramco assisted in the investigations, but say the plant attacked by this virus was not a part of their operations. Triton is confirmed to be specifically targeting the Triconex safety override systems, in an overt attempt to cause catastrophic damage. The Schneider Triconex controllers are used in about 18,000 plants around the world, including nuclear and water treatment facilities, oil and gas refineries, and chemical plants. The reports also revealed that attacks in Saudi Arabia using the Shamoon virus have continued, with Sadara Chemicals and the Saudi National Industrialisation Company (Tasnee) both being attacked last year.

USA, the CSB, and Russian hackers

In the USA, the impression is that major plant incidents fall into three main categories: dust explosions, maintenance welding errors and transport pipeline fractures……

[But here it is necessary to update this “impression” after the later announcement from the US administration  – the Dept of Homeland Security recently reported that Russian hackers had been observed on machines (computers) with access to critical control systems at power plants (both nuclear and conventional). American agencies have been aware of these intrusions/attacks for the past 18 months, and they have screenshots showing the hackers had the foothold needed to manipulate or shut down power plants – both in the US and in Europe, it seems….. Plus it is also linked to the suspected Presidential election meddling.] Returning, however, to dust explosions and welding errors….

The US ten year average for grain dust explosions is 9.3, so actually 2017 was below average with only seven explosions and five fatalities in the USA. The number is steadily declining, as better training and housekeeping take effect, and with the wider use of dust explosion venting and suppression systems.

It is my personal impression that maintenance welding errors seem to be a major cause of the plant and tank explosions reported in the USA, firstly during maintenance under hot work permits, but also in plant changes, when working on tanks where flammable materials were previously stored. Despite this apparent laxity in grain handling and petrochemical plant operations, the US has a world leading accident investigation organisation, the Chemical Safety (and Hazard Investigation) Board. The CSB was established in 1998, and produces brilliant accident analysis reports, covering small hazardous events up to major disasters. They are the people that are responsible for detailing the causes of the major BP Texas City refinery explosions in 2005, and the Macondo blowout in 2010, both of which caused major loss of life. The CSB can only make recommendations for legislative changes, which then have to be considered by OHSA and US State legislative bodies. Perhaps typically, President Trump promised to abolish the CSB when he came to office last March, presumably thinking it was a barrier to free enterprise etc, but thankfully he seems to have changed his mind!

Developments in Sensors

Returning to sensors, and the current development trends, it seems there is no specific focus for developments currently. Perhaps because of the US accidents with pipeline leaks and fractures, there is considerable attention being paid to corrosion and crack monitoring, but the development of point sensors seems to not be relevant for long pipelines. At the University of California San Diego, a new ultrasonic sensor array has been built onto a flat silicone elastomer sheet, which can be wrapped round bends and corners that otherwise are difficult to inspect with flat probes. Initial applications are seen on structural steel in bridges, or for aircraft engine supports.

In Europe, ACHEMA has launched their brochures in advance of the 11-15 June expo in Frankfurt: the last event was in 2015. Focussed on process engineering for chemicals, pharmaceuticals and petrochem, maybe ACHEMA will show the future routes of sensor development – notably however, cyber-security and safety from hazards are not major topics in their agenda!